YOLO

I’ve wanted a tattoo for a quite a few years. Every time I planned to get one, I ended up not following through because I couldn’t settle on what to get. I wanted a Phoenix, because if it’s significance in rising from the ashes. But it would have to be a reasonably sized tattoo, and I wasn’t sure I could handle something that intricate on my first go.

I thought about getting a butterfly. Once again, for its significance and relation to growth. But butterfly tattoos had gained popularity, and I didn’t want the meaning to get lost in the hype. But I always wanted something to symbolize my freedom.

Then when I got sick, I was told tattoos were a no go. Too much risk of infection, I assume. So I didn’t think about it for awhile, until the other day. I filled out a short get-to-know-you thing out of boredom. One of the questions asked about tattoos, and I wrote no. When my friend saw it, she said we should go and get my tattoo. Admittedly, we were both overly tired and I was not in the best frame of mind. But when I thought about it the next day, I really wanted to do it.

I’ve had to avoid so many things in my life. Can’t get vaccines anymore because my body isn’t strong enough to fight them. Can’t eat high-risk foods, like raw vegetables, because any contamination can make me sick. Can’t be around anyone who may be sick.

But what’s the point if I still get sick anyway? I can’t live in a bubble. I can’t avoid everything that will hurt me. So why deprive myself of something I wanted just because it might make me sick?

Just a day before, I had gone to a buffet — Golden Corral to be exact. They don’t have those where I’m from, so I was a little excited when I saw one here. Buffets are not good for me — not only because of the higher risk of contamination, but because most of the foods there aren’t good for my GI Isaura. But I said fuck it, I want to go. And we did. And I suffered for it, as I expected. But even through the discomfort and pain, there was a sense of joy in doing something I wanted.

So I took another risk. Today, I got my first tattoo. It wasn’t anything ornate or fancy. I didn’t want to take too much of a risk.

I couldn’t think of a more meaningful tattoo. The date I ran away, and birds of freedom. It’s a constant reminder for me, in those times when I do want to give up, to remember how far I’ve come from where I was.

Three Years of Freedom

My three year freedom anniversary was three days ago. I wish I could say that I celebrated it in some way, but I didn’t.

And that is not the normal for me. Ever since I ran away, I have celebrated every milestone — one year, 500 days, two years, 1,000 days. I’ve always done something symbolic, something meaningful to celebrate the day. The celebrations helped remind me of where I was, and where I came from. I know some people thought it was a bit much, but you never really understand just how important these days are unless you’ve escaped from hell. And I know many of you, unfortunately, can understand that.

But as my three year anniversary rolled around, I didn’t feel like there was anything to celebrate. Over the last few months, my life has fallen apart. I found myself homeless. And even though I found a bed in a shelter, that stay ended up damaging me even more. I wandered the streets. I slept on friends’ couches. And out of desperation, with no options left, I found myself on a bus traveling west to stay with someone I never actually met other than through online conversation.

How did I end up here? Why did I end up here? I still don’t understand what happened. I still don’t understand how, despite everything, I am ineligible for any type of assistance. If I was an alcoholic, or a drug addict, I could get help right away. In the midst of my desperation, I actually considered breaking my sobriety because I knew it was the only way I could get help. But why should I have to? It makes no sense.

I’m angry. And not just because I am homeless. Not just because my only option was to leave the state where I had everything, including my medical care, in place. I’m angry because I’m sick.

It’s not like being sick is anything new to me. I’ve been sick for awhile. But I think, in that time, there was a part of me that didn’t think it was a really big deal. Until I started getting really sick. Until that hospital stay back in May when everything took a turn for the serious. Pulmonologists, infectious disease specialists, doctors in and out of my hospital room telling me that I was very sick. This wasn’t just a cold. This wasn’t something that was going to go away. I must have answered a hundred questions as the doctors tried to figure out just how I ended up this way. It doesn’t make any sense, they’d say. Little did they know, nothing in my life has ever made much sense.

As much as I hate to admit it, I was (and still am) scared. A part of me wanted to run away from my medical problems. If I just left my doctors, left the hospital, that somehow my issues would just disappear. Until five days into my stay in another state, when I passed out at lunch and found myself at the hospital once again.

The hospital did chest x-rays just to be sure everything was okay and there was no pneumonia (as I had a massive thrush infection — completely unrelated to me passing out). The doctor walked into my room and I could see the confusion and concern on his face. There’s no pneumonia, so that’s the good news, but — before he could finish his sentence, I told him it was okay, that I knew I was sick. I realized I’m going to have to have this conversation every time I end up in the hospital. A consistent reminder that I’m sick, no matter how hard I try to pretend like I’m okay.

How is this fair? How is any of it fair? I fought so hard to get out alive and this is where I end up after three years. My mother is free. She is healthy. She doesn’t struggle.

And I am nowhere, sick and struggling.

All of the things I learned along the way have left me with nothing. The people that said they would support me have turned their backs on me. The system that says it helps those in need has left me stranded.

So what’s left to celebrate?

Shelter

I am exhausted. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. Possibly the most exhausted I have ever been.

Social services found me a bed at a homeless shelter today. It’s a temporary shelter — 30 day max stay. It’s on the other side of the county, in an area I don’t really know. But it’s a bed. There wasn’t much else they could do. I don’t qualify for any assistance because I am in the small percentage of people that fall within all the loopholes of disqualifications.

I’m trying to pick up the pieces. I’m trying to catch up with all the school work I got behind in when I was hospitalized. I’m trying to figure out if I’ll ever find a stable place to live. I’m trying to figure out how I’ll pay my bills.

I hadn’t cried until today. I’ve been pretending to be strong, when inside I’ve been a mess. It finally came out when I was sitting at social services and they told me I would be going to a shelter. It finally sunk in that I was homeless and alone.

It’s really hard to see the positive in anything in times of crisis. I could totally see myself having a complete meltdown. I could see myself giving up entirely.

But I have so much support. Friends, some I’ve met and some I’ve only known online, have continued to be supportive throughout these last a several days. Phone calls and emails have helped me get through the day. People have donated money to help me with transportation and food costs. And their messages of hope and gratitude for how I’ve helped them brought me to tears.

To those that have donated and help me in any way, I am incredibly grateful. You have given me hope.

I’ve always been the person who helps everyone. It’s hard for me to be the person in need. It’s hard for me to focus on myself and not caretake for others. When I first came here to the shelter, I donated half of my clothes. Because even in the chaos of my own happenstance, I felt that I had to give back in some way.

I don’t really know what’s going to happen anymore. But all I can do is hope that this experience has some kind of deeper meaning that I just can’t see right now.

1,000 Days of Freedom, Part 5: Hopes

I decided to end with something a little different from what I had done before. I had acknowledged my past and my present, so I thought it was important that I also acknowledge what I hope for in my future.

I chose sand dollars to represent my future hopes. Sand dollars are hard to come by, but when you find one, they are said to bring you good luck. Some traditions also say sand dollars symbolize peace.

I chose six sand dollars, and wrote one hope I have one each one.

To become psychologically, physically, and financially stable.

It’s been a struggle to achieve stability in any aspect. Psychologically, I’m not the best. I spend way too much of my life in therapeutic settings. I can’t take most medications, and the ones I can take don’t seem to work. They’re always telling me it’s going to take a lot of time to get better; it’s going to take a lot of time to undo 29 years of programming. Those who know my story tell me I’m doing great considering what I’ve experienced. I could have died. I guess they are right.

Physically, I know I’m never going to be 100%. My health issues are not curable. Some will get progressively worse over time. I just want to be able to feel better, to gain whatever control I can have, if that’s even possible, over my illnesses. I want to be able to stand up and walk without people being afraid I’m going to drop.

I want to be able to live with more than $1 in my bank account. I want to be able to go out without having to sell something to pay for the bus. I don’t want to be a burden on others, even if they tell me I’m not. Whether it’s financial assistance or some kind of work, I just want to be more secure and stable.

To get justice for myself and others.

I still feel responsible for leaving people behind, for leaving my mother behind so she could hurt others. I know it’s not my fault, that her actions are not my responsibility. But I long for justice. I want my mother to be punished for what she has done, for all the crimes she has committed. I want that for me, and for the other people she has hurt. I know it’s difficult to go through a trial. I know a lot of therapists don’t recommend re-traumatizing yourself for the sake of justice. But I hope one day, I can be strong enough to go through it. And if I can’t, that I can find some other way to get even just a semblance of justice.

To know my purpose in life.

I never had a chance in my first 29 years to learn who I was, to gain any sense of what my purpose was in life. Even after I ran away, I spent so much time focusing on therapy and work that I really didn’t spend enough time trying to find myself. I thought my purpose was to be a therapist and help others like me, but after the incident with my grad school that led to my removal, I lost that sense of purpose.

Perhaps it’s not about how far I can get in my education. Perhaps I don’t even need a degree to do what I was meant to do. Maybe I am meant to be a writer. Maybe I am meant to speak out about abusers like my mother.

My therapist always asks me if I’ve built a skyscraper yet. He said in one of our first sessions that I am the type of person who has the intelligence and the drive to do amazing things; he said one day, I’m going to have my own skyscraper. I have no desire to do that, but I understand what he’s saying to me. I can do things. I just have to figure out where to start.

To help others like me.

I’ve already started to do this, I think. I put myself out there when I started writing professionally, and I’ve had so many people reach out and tell me how much my writing and my honesty has helped them. I know I haven’t done much with PAFPAC lately. It’s been difficult to manage everything I am doing by myself, tired and sick. I want to do more one day, but I need to work on myself first.

To know what it’s like to live without wanting to die.

I’ve been wanting to die since I was six years old. Not a day goes by that I don’t think, even for a moment, that dying would be so much easier than living. I’m chronically suicidal to the point that it’s become normal to me. The thoughts come up at any time; some triggered by events or trauma anniversaries, but some don’t even have a reason to be there.

It’s exhausting. It’s like I’ve been fighting a battle that will never end. I just want to live without those thoughts. I don’t want to have to worry about waiting for the urges to get stronger, because I know from experience they will get stronger. I want to live a day without the weight of that on my mind. Just one day.

To accept that I’ll never know or understand why.

I think this is the most difficult hope for me, and yet the most necessary. I’ve spent years trying to figure out why my mother did what she did. I’ve read every book on sociopaths and narcissists. I’ve studied psychology and neuroscience. I’ve shared with others who have had similar experiences and I still can’t come up with a reason why. I need something to blame; for some reason, blaming her hasn’t been enough. It’s keeping me stuck.

I’ll never be able to understand why I have this life. I’ll never understand why I had to endure things that no child, no person should ever have to endure. I’ll never be able to rationalize the pain and hurt I feel every day of my life. Sometimes, there aren’t reasons. Sometimes, we will never know why. I will never know why. And that’s okay.

I will be okay.

Don’t go looking for the reasons
Don’t go asking Jesus why
We’re not meant to know the answers
They belong to the by and by

–Chris Stapleton, Broken Halos

1,000 Days of Freedom, Part 4: Help

I would not be where I am, 1,000 days into freedom, without help from others in my life.

I’m fortunate to have these people in my life. They have helped me in more ways than I can really even count. Whether it’s listening to me vent, helping me with medical problems, or getting me through tough days, these people have made a huge impact on me getting this far.

I wanted to recognize them, so I got three blue starfish shells. Starfish have multiple arms to help support them. They need them in order to survive. Blue starfish also have their own unique defense system that helps them survive from predators. I found it similar to how my support system helps me defend myself from people and things that hurt me.

On one, I put the names of my parts on each arm of the starfish. I couldn’t fit all of the names of my system on one starfish, so I put them in groups. I recognized K, even in her absence; I know she did a lot for me before I even knew she existed. I acknowledged Charlie and Violet, who have come to the forefront to keep us going, even when it was hard. I thanked my younger parts, many of whom hold trauma for me and for us. Without my parts, I wouldn’t be here, and I wouldn’t be functioning as I have.

On another starfish, I put the names of the therapists and doctors who have been there for me as I struggled through PHP and IOP. I spent five days a week with them for ten or so of the last 15 months. They helped me find a stable place to live, and even though we hit a few bumps on the road, we got there. I wouldn’t have been able to do that on my own. They pushed me to make doctor’s appointments and reach out for support when I needed it. The psychiatrist worked with me through all of my medication reactions (and there were quite a few), and never seemed to give up even when I wanted to throw in the towel. The nurse was there for me through all of my medical issues; she was the first person to legitimize that what I was going through was real. She and my therapist helped me through my pregnancy and abortion, without judgment, and helped me see that I was making the right decision. My therapist sat with me and let me cry when I needed to. She told me it was okay to feel. She dealt with me when others would have given up.

I went through some of the most difficult struggles in those months, and they were there for me through it all, and helped me through the darkness when I thought I would be stuck there forever.

On the last starfish, I wrote the names of those involved most closely in my life. My therapists, both new and old. My best friend, who I’ve known for half of my life. Even though we’ve never actually met in person, she has been the voice of reason for me in a lot of situations. She also never fails to make me laugh. My friend who took me in when I was homeless, who has made sure I always have what I need, who has consistently reminded me that I am safe, and who has taught me what it’s like to experience a normal life. My online supports, who not only give me an outlet, but many were also there for me when I escaped, encouraging me not to give up and give in. The people I met through work and therapy, who have since become friends. They’ve been there for me, they’ve made me laugh and cry, and they’ve managed to deal with me quite well, as I know I can be hard to deal with sometimes.

These people are important to me, and will continue to be important to me, even if we don’t see each other. Their words and actions have impacted me in ways that will last a long time. They’ve helped me decipher the lies and discover the truth, and for that I am forever thankful.

(I did not show the names for privacy reasons)

1,000 Days of Freedom, Part 3: Truths

In all this time, I’ve learned a lot of things. While I buried what I learned to be lies in the ocean, I needed to hold on to the truths that I learned.

I didn’t want to do stones; I wanted to do something different. I wanted something symbolic, something that reminded me of the place I was in. I thought about the beach. I remembered how, when I first planned out my escape, I walked along the beach and looked for sea shells. I was looking for certain ones, which were hard to find among the seemingly endless amount of shells that had washed up.

I eventually found them. I also found some really beautiful shells, completely by accident. I didn’t look for them, I just stumbled upon them in the search for my special shells. It made me think of the truths I’ve come to learn in these last 1,000 days. Some of them I went looking for; others I just stumbled upon on the way.

So I got sea shells, and wrote six of the most important truths I came to learn inside them.

I deserved to be loved and nurtured.

There is nothing — NOTHING — a child could ever do to deserve to be abused, tortured, raped, or assaulted. I didn’t do anything to warrant that. I was a child who deserved to be nurtured and taken care of, not abused and neglected. I deserved love and care, hugs and kisses, kindness and warmth. I didn’t get any of that. But I deserved to get that. I deserved to have a childhood without fear and pain. I deserved a home I could feel safe in.

I can speak the truth. She can no longer silence me.

I had no voice for years. I grew up in fear of telling people who my mother was, and telling people what was going on. I thought I was lying to protect myself, but I was really lying to protect her. I know that now. Now I can use my voice, because I am free. I will continue to speak the truth because it’s my truth to speak. I am no longer afraid to speak. I am no longer shamed to admit what has happened to me. I will not be silent.

I am a good person who deserves good things.

Even after I ran away, I lived my life for others more than I did for myself, because I still believed that I was somehow less deserving than others. I deflected compliments as if they were poison, because I believed I didn’t deserve them. I understated my achievements because I believed I didn’t truly earn them. But I’ve come to realize that I do deserve the good things — whether they be compliments, promotions, awards — even food. I am a human being. I am a good, kind, genuine person who deserves some good, as hard as that may be for me to acknowledge.

Family isn’t biological. You can make your own family, and I have.

Despite what people have said to me, even recently, my family is not the people who are genetically linked to me. My father may have been my sperm donor, but he was not my family. My mother may have given birth to me, but she is not my family. The others who never intervened, they are not my family. My family is made up of the people who support me and care for me and love me for who I am. They are there for me no matter if it’s a good day or a bad day. My family is unconditional.

I am nothing like my mother.

I’m not a sociopath. I’m not a predator. I’m not an abuser. I’m not who my mother is. I used to think that if I liked the same things as her, if I ate the same food as her, that meant that I was her. She used to change her hair to match mine. She used to take my clothes to wear them herself. People used to say how much I looked like her because she made herself to look like me. I could never separate any aspect of myself from my mother. But now I realize that physical appearance means nothing, and that shared blood doesn’t make for shared behaviors.

I can ask for help. It doesn’t mean I’m weak. It won’t get me in trouble.

I grew up never asking for anything. I never wanted to be a burden. I never wanted to be punished. I could never reach out because I knew, in the end, it would only end up getting me into more trouble. That fear carried over into my adulthood, and even after I ran away, I struggled with reaching out. There were times I needed someone to talk to, but I was too afraid to be a bother. There were times I was dissociating and needed help grounding, but I thought asking for help meant I wasn’t strong enough to do it on my own.

It’s no surprise that one of my main goals in every treatment I’ve been in — from PHP to IOP to individual therapy — has been to learn how to reach out for help. I don’t have to wait until I’m at a breaking point. I don’t have to refuse help when someone offers it. I can ask because people are willing to help me.

These truths will stay with me, as a reminder of how much I’ve learned and grown.